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St. Lawrence County roads and bridges in dire condition

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County would need more than $28 million over the next 10 years to correct and maintain its deficient bridges, roads and culverts.

That was the conclusion of a gloomy report by county Highway Superintendent Donald R. Chambers to county legislators Monday.

Forty percent of county-owned bridges are deficient. Of the county’s 574 miles of road, 403 need major work to the sub-base and asphalt. The county has 260 large culverts of which 21.5 percent are deficient.

The reason for the deterioration is simple, said Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler.

“I’ll tell you why: money,” he said.

It should be no surprise that the road network is in bad shape, given the county has six river systems and a lot of bridges and is poor, Mr. MacKinnon said.

The lack of funding has been building for some time, but the county’s fiscal crisis of recent years has worsened the decay. While it has spent federal money and Consolidated Highway Improvement Program money to replace bridges and do road work, the county has not contributed any of its own money for capital work since 2012 because it is all discretionary and therefore one of the places traditionally cut.

The county is not alone, Mr. Chambers said.

“You’re going to hear the same exact problem in nearly every community. We have more infrastructure than we can afford,” he said. “There’s a multitude of problems that cause the issue.”

The cost for materials has gone up. Regulatory demands have grown and funding has dried up, he said.

“It’s compounding all at the same time,” he said.

The Highway Department has also lost staff, from 113 employees in 2004 to 92 in 2014.

Mr. Chambers estimated annual costs to correct deficient conditions and maintain the balance at $18.4 million for roads, $9.3 million to reconstruct bridges, $400,000 to rebuild culverts, $3.7 million to maintain bridges and $600,000 to maintain culverts.

The county would have to spend more than $3 million annually to maintain its current bridge deficiency ratio of 40 percent, not including maintenance, he said.

The number of bridges with a load posting of 15 tons or less also will grow, meaning that school buses and firetrucks will not be able to use them. The county now has 10 bridges with a load posting of 15 tons or less. Projections are that number may grow to 26 bridges in the next five years and a total of 63 bridges in the next 10 years.

Mr. Chambers included a priority bridge list that showed the condition of 27 bridges, not as a plan for repair but to illustrate the size of the problem. If the county is not going to spend the money to repair and maintain them, it should come up with a plan on which bridges to close, he said.

Inspectors just yellow-flagged a bridge on Bay Road and one on Doane Road, both in the town of Fowler, meaning they need work done soon.

In recent months, the county closed a bridge over the Grasse River in Pyrites, a bridge over Elm Creek on Lafaver Road in Russell and a bridge over the Oswegatchie River on Old State Road in Fine.

Closing those bridges created short detours and minimal traffic disruption, but others will not be so easy, Mr. Chambers said.

“There’s going to be some tough decisions,” he said.

Closing bridges creates a new set of problems, said Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction.

A deteriorating village bridge in Hermon that was closed has forced trucks onto streets not built to take their weight.

“Those streets will now deteriorate much faster,” Mr. Morrill said.

Talking about closing bridges is one thing. Doing it is another, as constituents become upset, Mr. MacKinnon said.

“You have the noble discussion now and the political reality later,” he said.

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